Friday, May 31, 2013

Sleep Better … Or Else!

Do not underestimate the importance of a good night’s sleep.  According to the Better Sleep Council, lack of sleep will kill you faster than lack of food.  Two weeks without food can put you in a state of starvation, but just 10 days without sleep is long enough to put you fix feet under. 

Man sleeping at his desk

At the least, lack of sleep can be bad for your marriage:
  • A 2012 survey showed that more than half of Americans surveyed crave sleep more than sex – As high as 80 percent of women are dying for some shuteye, even over sex.
  • According to the Better Sleep Council, one in four married couples sleep in separate beds. While no doubt relational troubles account for some of this, sleeping problems like snoring, obsessive tossing and turning, or insomnia account for some of this. 
Even if you’re not pulling 10 days’ worth of all-nighters and thus risking imminent death, you should know that those who regularly have problems getting the right amount of sleep are at risk of all kinds of medical problems:
  • A 2012 sleep deprivation study reported that lack of sleep produces the same physical ailments as does intense emotional or psychological stress. Researchers learn that participants’ white blood cell counts went through the roof when the were deprived of sleep.
  • Speaking of the physiological similarities between poor sleep and stress, a June 2012 study from University of California, Berkeley, tells us that not getting enough sleep actually generates stress in the form of anxiety – which becomes a vortex of trouble, since anxiety can lead to insomnia. 
  • At the Sleep 2012 Conference, results of a new sleep study revealed that inadequate sleep – less than six hours nightly – boosts your risk of having a stroke. 
  • A 2012 study presented at the American College of Cardiology reported that too much sleep can also hurt your heart health. The study confirmed that insufficient sleep creates health risk – specifically it doubles your  risk of stroke or heart attack – but researchers also discovered that getting more than eight hours average per night increases your risk of coronary artery disease and doubles your angina risk.
Difficulties sleeping

Beyond physical risks from poor sleep, 2012 research using Los Angeles high school students revealed that those cram-for-the-exam all-nighters do more harm than good to student test results. The survey showed that grades were the worst among those who got the least amount of sleep from late-night last-minute test preparation.

And now the good news…

Though there’s little time left of May – which happens to be Better Sleep Month – there’s still plenty of time to improve your health, your marriage, and your grades, by improving your sleep.  To help you get started, here are…

Woman sleeping in bed

Five tips for a better night's rest

The first three tips, from the Better Sleep Council, are particularly helpful to couples trying to get a good night' s sleep together.
  • Tip #1 – Create a buffer zone. If you aren't getting adequate sleep because of your spouse's frequent tossing and turning, get a body pillow to create an elbow-blocking barrier of protection.
  • Tip #2 – Turn a deaf ear. Silence your partner's snorific schnozola by wearing a good pair of in-ear foam earplugs. The in-ear kind work well for sleeping, and also do a good job of muffling the snoring to a whisper.  This is a safer and much less expensive solution to the noise problem than having your snoring partner go for a surgical fix.
  • Tip #3 – Change your blanket policy. If you find you're getting less sleep because your tossing-and-turning bed buddy takes the sheets and blankets with them when they roll over, an easy remedy is a second blanket – one for each of you.
    Tip #4 – Become a creature of sleep habit.  Many studies have shown that going to bed and waking up at the same time aides in the functioning of your natural sleep/wake rhythm.  As much as possible, make a habit of heading for bed at the same time each night, and your body will likely "get a clue," and start getting sleepy at that regular time.
  • Tip #5 – Create a routine. Establishing nightly go-to-sleep rituals can help bring on the sleep.  These bedtime rituals can be simple and even pleasant. It's simply a matter of finding what works best for you, whether that is in evening bath, a certain type of music, a cup of tea or warm milk, dimming of the house lights, reading a book, or turning down the sheets. Your repeated routine can cause your sleep cycle to "click in."
Interested in more tips to help you sleep well? Check out these three good pieces of advice on improving your sleep from the Better Sleep Council. Also, get eight more sleeping tips here, or peruse these tips for adjusting to daylight savings times

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Make a Smooth Move With These Moving Day Tips

Did you know that May is National Moving Month?  May kicks off what is the busiest moving season of the year.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 38 million of us move every year, with the average American moving nearly 12 times in their lifetime.  And according to the Employee Relocation Council, the only events more stressful in your life are death and divorce!

As a person who has moved more than 25 times in the course of my life, all but one being a self-move, I offer up these four moving day tips designed especially for you, the do-it-yourself mover.

Moving packed boxes

Tip #1 – Purposely overestimate the scope

There are two easy ways to mess up a move (trust me on this; I've done both). And having helped many others move, I can tell you that these are common moving day blunders.  Either one of these errors will add enormous stress to your move day. They are:
  • Underestimating the amount of time it's going to take you to pack up everything in preparation for move day
  • Underestimating the size of truck or trailer that you need to transport all your stuff
Picture this. You're scheduled to pick up the rental truck at 8 AM on Saturday. It's now 10 PM Friday, and you are sitting in the middle of the dining room, literally surrounded by piles of dishes, knickknacks, photo albums, and whatnot. You are out of packing boxes of the right size. The one remaining packaging tape roll just ran out, and the nearest supplies stores are all closed. And you still haven't figured out how in the world you're going to get that stereo system all packed up safely for the trip.

Sound familiar? I hope not.

Maybe you've avoided that fiasco, but now, picture this.  It's moving day. You and maybe a friend or two have spent the last eight hours taking countless trips between the house and the rental moving van. The sun is starting to go down, and the truck is nearly full: only two feet to spare. Then you sigh, realizing you haven't even started loading everything from the kitchen.  Nor the backyard.

You're in a real fix now. Do you throw everything away? Do you try to find a larger truck to rent now, even though it means starting all over, moving everything from the first truck to the second, when you're already exhausted?  It's too late for a yard sale, and too late to take everything to the nearest Salvation Army or Goodwill store.

Sound familiar? I hope not.

The best way to avoid either of these fiascoes is to assume that you need more time and more space than you think you need.
  • Start packing things up long before the target move day.  If you think you need 12 hours to pack up everything, budget 36.
  • If you think you need two rolls of packing tape, buy four. 
  • If you think you need an 18-foot truck, rent the 24-foot truck. 
If it turns out that you have an extra day in your schedule than you needed, or have leftover boxes or tape – and especially if it turns out that you have leftover space in the moving van – that's all right. All of these scenarios are significantly less stressful than running out of any of those things.

Large moving truck

Tip #2 – Plan for safety

Most of us don't do our daily commute driving a big truck or transporting a large trailer attached to our car.  You'll need to mentally shift gears to prepare for driving safely with all this extra girth and reduced maneuverability and to avoid these all-too-common moving day accidents:
  • Backing up into things by underestimating the total length of the rental vehicle;
  • Damaging the top of the truck and nearby trees or objects by underestimating the height of your vehicle;
  • Not allowing adequate turning space at a corner, damaging the tree, power pole, or mailbox that had been sitting there, minding its own business.
And yes, I'm guilty of one of these. No, I won't tell you which.  But to avoid these and other common moving day accidents yourself, remember to:
  • Read the instructional brochures that accompany your rental vehicle, which will remind you of all of the things you need to remember while driving the rental vehicle or trailer that you don’t normally have to think about when driving a car;
  • Plan in advance by checking for tree clearance or building eave clearance at the house you are moving from and to;
  • Know your rental truck height, and read the height clearance notations of any gas station's overhead awning.

Tip #3 – Go slow!

A common and extremely dangerous thing to do on your moving day is drive faster than the recommendations on the rental trailer or rental truck. Trying to keep up with the fast lane car traffic can put you on the road to disaster, especially when trailer towing – the leading loss-liability risk in the equipment rental industry.  Wind can create unstoppable trailer fishtailing at high speeds.  Braking takes longer.  Curves create control issues and tipping hazards.

Make sure to budget enough travel time that you do not feel rushed. Remove all Mario Andretti thoughts from your mind. Think mellow, relaxing, 55-mile-per-hour thoughts, and enjoy the idea of staying in the right lane.

Tip #4 – make your reservation early

It's especially important if you are moving during busy seasons to schedule your rental as far in advance as possible. Your local truck rental store may run out of vehicles if you wait to the last minute.

Moving packed boxes

The big goal – a smooth move and great memories

For more guidance on having a safe and successful moving day experience, see the Better Business Bureau's article on How to Find a Trustworthy Mover or check out one of these useful guides to help you have a successful do-it-yourself move:
Moving day can actually be a fun adventure for the entire family if you can minimize the stress and maximize the enjoyment. Heed these tips and you'll already be halfway down the road to great memories and a successful move.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

What the Heck Are Free Radicals Anyway?

Antioxidants … raw foods … macrobiotics … free radicals … bioflavonoids … phytonutrients …

Confused? It's no surprise. When talking about healthy foods and healthy living, the terminology can make you feel like an outsider.  It’s a vocabulary that you’ll hear in no other context of daily living, but words like these are tossed about by health-conscious well-wishers in conversations or articles, hoping to persuade, but not realizing that they are speaking what amounts to a foreign language to the uninitiated. 

Welcome to the club.  If you are one of those who would like to be eating and living healthier, our new What-the-Heck-Is-This-Anyway series will arm you with the confidence the next time you hear one of these words, beginning with this article on free radicals

Aging hands

What is a free radical?

Free radicals are molecules with unpaired electrons.  Free radical molecules form when oxygen interacts with them.  Free radicals are everywhere on this planet.  You’ll find them in the air, inside human bodies, in plants and animals, and in objects all around us.

Perhaps this all sounds innocent enough, but these microscopic little stinkers are far from harmless.  Free radical molecules require that second electron.  Without it, they are unstable: reactive.  Thus, free radicals roam their cellular neighborhood, as though anxiously seeking an electron to steal.  And until they succeed, they react with anything around them, causing damage to surrounding stable molecules.  When they successfully make the steal, there goes the neighborhood – the attacked molecule has now lost one of its electrons and itself becomes a free radical.  This launches a chain reaction as the newly formed free radical heads out to steal an electron, and so on. This degeneration of the ‘hood around that first free radical spreads until BAM! the living cell is disrupted: damaged or destroyed.

Free radical molecules damage just about everything.  Consider the apple.  When you slice it open, notice how quickly the exposed apple’s interior turns brown.  This is caused by free radical damage.  In fact, you may have noticed that absolutely everything seems to age, even if at different rates of decay.  This aging is largely the result of free radical damage.  It causes plastics to deteriorate, paint to fade, rocks to crumble, and works of art to deteriorate.

Why should I care about free radicals?

The free radicals that cause inanimate materials to age also cause living things to decay, or “age” – including humans. 

Today, many scientists believe that much of what we call aging or age-related illness results from free radical damage to the cells, DNA, enzyme systems, and our immune system functions.  This includes the damage that leads to heart attacks, stroke, Parkinson's disease, arthritis, atherosclerosis, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, and cancers.  Scientists have discovered evidence that free radicals start and accelerate cell death mechanisms.

Some scientists also believe in the free radical theory of aging; that organisms age because the cells of all organism are continually accumulating free radical damage over time.   The more free radical damage that builds up in your body, the more and faster you age.

Organic strawberries

What can I do to avoid free radicals?

Because free radical molecules are everywhere, and are a natural bi-product of certain bodily functions, you may be wondering then; how is it possible to reduce exposure to free radicals? 

First consider that free radicals – a normal part of life – only becoming a health risk when your body is bombarded beyond its ability to combat the free radicals.  Second, consider the common sources of free radical overload and make healthy life choices to avoid them.  For example:
  • Avoid fried foods.  When you fry foods – especially at high temperatures and especially when using unsaturated fats – cell-damaging free radicals form, which can  lead to many long-term illnesses.  Minimize frying, reduce the heat when frying, avoid frying with unsaturated fats (cottonseed, safflower, soy, or corn oil), and instead use saturated oils, such as coconut oil or olive oil, when frying food.
  • Buy organic.  Using organic produce will help you avoid ingesting toxic pesticides.  Particularly go organic when buying celery, apples, peaches, or strawberries – statistically the most pesticide-laden fruits.
  • Avoid pollution.  Air or water pollution, often sourced from smoke, herbicides, or chemical toxins, can cause free radicals to develop.  If you live in an area where the tap water is not high quality, use purified water.  As well, reduce or stop smoking, so that your home air space is less contaminated. 
  • Avoid radiation overexposure.  Radiation induced tumors result from free radicals that damage the DNA in your cells.  So, avoid overexposure to sun (sunburn is an example of free radical damage to the skin), X-rays, radioactive material, and close exposure to microwave towers.

How can I protect myself from free radicals?

As noted above, free radicals only become a health risk when there too many.  But “too many” is a relative term.  It implies a limit to what your body can handle.  In other words, free radical damage is a danger to you when your body is too weak to counteract their effect.  Indeed your body can normally handle free radicals when your body has enough antioxidants available.  This is why many scientists have concluded that the best way to protect yourself from free radical damage is to increase the amount of antioxidants in your body.

People exercisingWe’ll talk more about antioxidants – another one of those health food buzz words – in an upcoming What-the-Heck-Is-This-Anyway article.  But the short story is that they help you fight free radical damage.  So, eat foods high in antioxidants – foods that packed with naturally occurring vitamin E, vitamin C, and beta-carotene (vitamin A). 

In case you’ve heard the news that a hard cardio workout can produce free radicals, it’s true … but it’s not a good excuse to stop exercising.  Here’s why:  that same cardio workout also causes antioxidant enzyme production, which counteracts the free radicals.   As well, regular training improves fitness, which, in turn, boosts production of antioxidant enzymes.

Stay tuned: You’ll learn more about fighting free radicals when we do our follow-up article, What the Heck Are Antioxidants Anyway?

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Monday, May 20, 2013

Ditch the Caffeine Habit With Maca Root

Could maca root be an effective coffee substitute? Perhaps so.  Many people find that regular and continued use of the more commonly used energy boosters – coffee, black tea, and cola beverages – is problematic.

For some, the problem is stomach upset. In others: headaches or nervousness. And many find that the energy boost from coffee or other caffeine beverages diminishes over time; what once took a single cup of coffee for that early morning perkiness might now take three or four cups to get the same effect. 

What is the alternative if you're in the habit of that morning boost? Many people have found that maca root provides a better, healthier solution than maintaining your coffee addiction.

Andes mountains in PeruWhat is maca root?

Maca, whose scientific name is the ever-so-catchy Lepidium meyenii (now you know why most call it maca) is an herbal plant in the radish family that thrives in the wilds of the high Andes Mountains of Peru.

Due to its rising popularity, the maca plant is also farmed in the region for its root, used both as a vegetable and a medicinal herb.  Peruvian natives have been using the root in food preparation and for its medicinal properties for centuries.

What are the benefits of maca root?

Many natural health practitioners consider maca root to be one of the most powerful superfoods. Proponents and sellers of maca root claim a host of benefits, including:
  • Increased energy and stamina
  • Mental clarity
  • Immune system enhancement
  • Relief for symptoms of chronic fatigue
  • Stress defense
  • Endocrine system support and stimulation
  • Skin health and rejuvenation
  • Menopausal support
  • Cholesterol reduction
  • Balancing out premenstrual mood swings
  • Enhanced fertility and sex drive
Few formal scientific studies have been performed to verify all these maca root health benefits, and some research even appears to debunk the connection between Maca root and enhanced sex drive or fertility, although at least one conflicting study performed with male subjects showed an increase in semen volume, sperm count, and sperm motility after a four-month treatment regimen.  

The claims that appear to be more universally accepted and supportable under scrutiny of scientific study include its ability to boost energy and mental clarity, and its positive influence on the endocrine system, showing the potential to stabilize hormone levels.  Because of this, many natural health practitioners have recommended maca root powder for treatment of PMS and menopausal symptoms, or as a form of hormone replacement therapy.  This herb appears to hone in on hormonal imbalances in women –the source of many menopausal and PMS problems, such as cramping, fatigue, cravings, bloating, irritability, hot flashes, and headaches.

As for its effects on energy level or mental clarity, many people use maca root as a substitute for coffee, or even as an additive to their coffee, because of its similar effects.  Maca root is loaded with B-vitamins, which adds to its energy affect, and offers a vegetarian source of B-12.

Maca root

Where can I get Maca root?

Perform an online search for "maca root" or "maca root powder" and you will find numerous online health food providers that carry various forms of maca root, including ground root powder, maca root pills, as maca root liquid extract, or in the form of a roasted maca coffee substitute. Many local or national health food chains also carry various forms of maca root.

What do I do with it – how do I take Maca root?

There are many ways to take maca root, with the most common being in pill form, as a liquid extract, or as powdered maca root.  If you are used to the habit of that morning cup of coffee, you can also find roasted versions of maca root designed to taste similar to coffee. Maca root can be enjoyed raw or cooked. In its powdered form, you can mix it into water or teas, or dust your foods with it.

As for the flavor, most people describe it as an "acquired taste," not necessarily bad tasting, but not pleasant either. Some do like it, describing it as a light, nutty flavor, while others describe it as a flavor that is "hard to mask, and takes some getting used to." 

Maca root side effects

There are no serious maca root side effects discovered in human clinical trials, according to NYU medical research but, like caffeine, which has many benefits, maca root can have side effects that may prevent you from taking it regularly.  It’s recommended that you start slowly, gradually build up the dosage so you don’t have a bad reaction.

Possible side effects include rapid heart beat, sweating, anxiety, nausea, diarrhea, insomnia, heartburn, mood changes, confusion, and elevated heart rate.  In many cases, due to the medicinal strength of maca root, system detoxification can bring on some of these negative side effects temporarily, particularly among those with compromised health already. Other Maca root risks or health considerations:
  • Do not to take when pregnant or lactating.
  • Maca contains glucosinolates, which have been known to generate goiters when consumed in high quantity in combination with a low-iodine diet.
  • Any information in this article is intended to supplement but not substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of a qualified health provider before you start any new treatment or significant diet change.

Maca root Recipes

Maca root in green smoothieYou can use powdered maca root in juices, smoothies, or shakes. You can also add it to yogurt and hot or cold cereals. Also try cooking or baking the powder into your other favorite dishes.  More recipes:
As well, the Navitas Naturals website has a host of maca root recipes worth trying, including Chocolate Energy Bites with walnut, hemp, and maca; a Blueberry Hemp Shake with maca; and Crispy Rice Squares with maca. 

If you have any tasty maca recipes of your own, please share using the comments below. 

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Friday, May 17, 2013

Bike to Work, Bike to School!

May is national bike month – the perfect time to try out, or bring back, this healthier alternative to going to work, going to the store, going to school, or going anywhere.

Many communities also celebrate Bike to Work Week (May 13-17) or Bike to Work Day (varies, but Friday, May 17, in most towns) with special events to encourage would-be bike riders.

Businessmen riding bikes to work

Health benefits of bicycling

There are global benefits to biking, such as decreased air pollution emissions and decreased greenhouse gas emissions.  As well, the increased levels of physical activity improve your cardiovascular fitness, which decreases your risk of coronary heart disease.  And biking tones and builds muscles with low impact on joints compared to many other forms of exercise.

Biking also burns calories, which can improve your waistline, especially if you push it. A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine states that women biking just five minutes a day gained roughly 1.5 fewer pounds during their study than did women who didn't take up biking.  And those who upped their daily biking to 30 minutes kept even more weight off.  Bicycling with consistent heart rate elevation, it seems, is an effective solution to weight control, the study concludes. 

Businessman riding bike to workNeed more motivation?  Another study concluded that bicycling increases longevity, while other research indicates that riding a bike can improve mental health. Even your immune system benefits from two-wheeling it, according to this study.

So then, what are you waiting for, and why just bike this month?  Perhaps you’re dissuaded by a naysayer?  After all, there are some – those who prefer the four-wheeled motorized convenience of driving to work – who are quick to point out the safety and exposure to air pollution risks of biking, perhaps even claiming that the risks outweigh the advantages.  Truth is, they are wrong, according to a bicycling safety study reported in 2010 in the US National Library of Medicine of the National Institute of Health.  The study concluded that the estimated health benefits of cycling were substantially larger than the risks relative to car driving for individuals shifting their mode of transport.  Get the full scoop on this detailed bike safety study here.

Get your kids into biking

National bike month is also a good time to get your kids turned on to cycling.  Obviously, the best way to encourage children to bike is by example.  The League of American Bicyclists recommends that, as soon as your child is able hold their head up and fit a helmet, they are ready to be a passenger on your bike (before age five, use a bicycle child seat or bicycle trailer).  When they see you bicycling regularly at this young age, you will be setting patterns of exercise that feel natural to them.

Once your child develops basic motor skills, they can operate a bike, initially with training wheels.  Explain to your kids how traffic works, about yielding the right of way, passing pedestrians and parked cars, predicting what others might do, and traffic laws. Consider letting them pick out their helmet – and mandate that they wear it!  This is another area where you can teach by example, wearing yours also.  Let your children practice balancing in vacant parking lot where they can safely make mistakes as they practice riding in circles, in a straight line, and braking.

Child with helmet on bike

For guided help on teaching your child to bike well, look for cycling clinics for kids in your area.  Also, more than 1,300 Wal-Mart stores are hosting bike rodeos during the Bike month.  Check your local Wal-mart for details.

Find out more about Bike Month or Biking events in your neighborhood

Ready to get rolling on two wheels? 

Finally, if you want to have a little fun at home or work during National Bike Month, consider blasting on the stereo a bit of the English rock band Queen’s classic from 1978 I Want to Ride My Bicycle, available by download from many online music stores, if not already in your music collection.   Doing so may not burn as many calories as actually getting on your bike and riding, but it’s a fun way to spread the biking notion.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

How to Become a Foster Parent

Have you ever considered becoming a foster parent, but weren't sure where to start, or if you would qualify?  National Foster Care Month is the right time to investigate! 

Foster care is the system that aids minors whose home situation is not conducive to the safety and welfare of the child or teen.  Foster care is usually a short term solution for the minor while a permanent placement can be made, which may be back with their family, with a relative, or possibly into adoption beyond relatives.

The care and living arrangements of foster children is usually handled by a government or social-service agency.  Initially, the minor is often placed in an institution or group home, although a private home of a state-certified caregiver (a.k.a. foster parent) is usually sought as the better solution until a permanent arrangement can be made. While foster parenting is not a way to make money, the state usually provides the foster parents a stipend to cover the expenses they may incur. 

Foster Care Month

Calling all potential for foster parents!

The need for more foster parents is great.  More than 380,000 children and youth under 18 in America are in foster care. According to, about 104,000 children in the nation's foster care systems are ready for adoptive families today. 

For these children, their psychological and emotional needs are often dire, since they frequently come from a family in crisis who is less able to care for the physical and mental health of their children. In spite of this great need for adult nurturing in their lives, states that more than 26,000 children (mostly at age 18) end up leaving the foster care system each year without ever acquiring a lifelong family.  These young adults enter the world without the nurturing family experiences that prepare them to do well on their own. 

If this tugs on your heart strings, then perhaps it’s time to consider becoming a foster parent.  Your parental love and influence while they are minors can make a lifetime of betterment throughout their lives. 

Foster parent with child

What could disqualify me from being a foster parent?

Not sure if you can qualify?  Each state’s rules vary as to what qualifies or prevents you from being considered for foster parenting.  But the reality is that more children need temporary care than the current supply of foster parents can help, and the option of returning to their natural parents may be a dangerous option. 

Qualifying for foster parenting usually involves the following:
  • Your state will want to be sure you want to help children.  Many of their questions and analysis start here.
  • You must have adequate time and living quarters to accommodate a foster child.  A background check, foster care home inspection, and a personal foster parenting interview will determine this.
What will not prevent you from becoming a foster parent is your marital status, your age (except that you must be at least 21), your race, your religion, or whether or not you work outside the home.

How do I get started in foster care?

The first step: complete an application.  The state or foster care agency will require you to agree to a background check, a home inspection, and a personal interview.  During this process, they will determine if you meet all licensing requirements specific to your state or region.

To locate foster parent information in your state, download and review the  Contact Information for Foster Care Inquiries guide, published by the National Resource Center for Permanency and Family Connection.

How to get involved in National Foster Care Month

Foster parent with child
To find out how you can make a difference in the lives of foster children during May, National Foster Care Month, visit Even if you are not in a position to be a foster or adoptive parent, the foster care system is always in need of mentors (How do I become a mentor?) and volunteers (to find out how to become a Court-Appointed Special Advocate (CASA), visit the CASA website). 

And everyone can help spread the word among their friends, relatives, neighbors, and coworkers about the often urgent needs of the nearly 400 thousand children under age 18 in the foster care system.  To make a difference this very month, download the Foster Care Month toolkit supplies, including brochures, posters, promotional graphics, and other digital materials.

You may have heard that there has been a decrease in the total number of children in foster care in recent years, likely due to an upswing in foster care advocates and support groups in. However, remember the statistics shown above; clearly much more foster care help is needed.  This month, consider investigating becoming a foster parent, or encourage foster parenting to others who may be well-suited for this. 

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Monday, May 13, 2013

Food Allergies–Treatment and Coping

Today, five million Americans suffer from food allergies. For some, the risk of  anaphylaxis – an often life-threatening, allergic reaction that affects breathing – lurks within any meal consumed in which they do not know the chef's choice of ingredients. 

As we enter Food Allergy Awareness Week (May 12-18), here are four lifestyle management tips for those suffering from food allergies, as well as information on food allergy treatments.

FARE Food Allergy Awareness Week

Food allergies are effectively an overreaction of the body's immune system to what it perceives as a threat when it is presented with what should be considered by the body as a harmless food protein. The immune system "attacks" the allergen as if it were a germ. It does this by producing massive amounts of an antibody called immunoglobulin E, releasing histamine or other chemicals. The result: an allergic reaction to food.

Common non-life-threatening allergic reactions to foods include symptoms such as hives on the skin, itchy mouth or ear canal, vomiting, nausea, stomach pain, diarrhea, eczema, uterine contractions, sneezing, nasal congestion, or a dry cough.  Serious food allergy symptoms include a weak pulse, loss of consciousness, chest pain, dropping blood pressure, shortness of breath, difficulty swallowing, or a swelling of the mouth or throat that impinges upon breathing.
FARE Food Allergy Awareness Week
Just about any food can cause food allergy reactions. That said, an estimated 90 percent of all food allergic reactions in the US are attributed to wheat, egg, milk, soy, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, and peanut.  For detailed info on these common food allergens, explore the Food Allergens section of the Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) organization.

Treatment for food allergies

The first step in food allergy treatment is an accurate diagnosis. If you suspect that you or your child have a food allergy, medical experts strongly recommend getting evaluated and treated by an experienced medical professional, preferably a board-certified allergist, to whom your primary care physician can refer you.

Alternatively, see the physician directory of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.  The problem with attempting to diagnose food allergies on your own is that food allergies are easily misrecognized, which could result in avoidable dietary restrictions, lack of nutrition, or continuing allergic reactions to foods.

To identify food allergies, allergists use many different tests, including the skin prick test, a blood test, an oral food challenge,  or a trial elimination diet. Once a food allergy has been identified, your allergist can help you with treatments that can alleviate or control symptoms. Unfortunately, at this point, there are no known food allergy cures.  Until any cures for food allergies are found, the best food allergy treatment is to avoid the foods you are allergic to.

To reduce the severity of the mild to moderate food allergy symptoms, doctors often treat their patients with antihistamines or steroids. When a patient suffers from severe reactions, such as anaphylaxis, the doctor usually prescribes epinephrine, often in the form of an auto-injector. Epinephrine is capable of reversing food allergy symptoms.

Along with epinephrine, doctors often prescribe other medications, such as steroids, antihistamines, or short-acting bronchodilators, all of which can help relieve or control the severity of symptoms.

Four tips for coping with food allergies

The following guidance will help those who deal daily with food allergies.
  1. Respond quickly to severe food allergy reactions. Immediately take your prescribed epinephrine at the first signs of a reaction, and contact 911. Because breathing or consciousness problems may arise, request an ambulance rather than driving yourself. Make sure you and family members know to inform the 911 dispatcher that you have just administered epinephrine and that it was for an anaphylactic reaction to food.
  2. Practice and prepare to respond to food allergies. Just as fire drills and tornado drills save lives, so can food allergy drills. Know in advance where in your area there are emergency rooms capable of treating a severe food allergy.  Just as experienced travelers locate the nearest fire escapes when they are staying away from home, experienced food allergy sufferers prepare for allergy attacks when traveling by finding out in advance where the nearest emergency rooms are, and by always keeping food allergy medications handy.  As well, it's wise to practice using any prescribed auto-injectors before you actually need one. Ask your doctor for a auto-injector "trainer" device – similar to the real thing, but without the needle or medication.
  3. Get connected with a food allergy support group. It can be difficult and embarrassing to deal with food allergies on a day-to-day basis. Many food allergy sufferers find comfort and encouragement by joining a food allergy support group. To find a support group near you, take advantage of the FARE organization's food allergy support group search engine.
  4. Learn about food allergies and keep a diary. If you must live with food allergies, there are many reliable websites and books available to help you understand your allergy and know how to deal with them. Doctors also recommend that you maintain a journal of your own allergic reactions, which can be a great resource for you and your doctor. Identify which meals cause reactions, in which seasons of the year you most experience the reactions, and severity of reactions. Capturing this info will help you and your doctor identify food tolerance changes, which can help with dietary or medical treatment adjustments.

Boost awareness and solutions: Food Allergy Awareness Week

FARE Food Allergy Awareness WeekFood Allergy Awareness Week, practiced annually since 1998, is sponsored by FARE, the organization that regularly works on behalf of Americans with food allergies.  See their site to find out how you can get involved in spreading the word. You'll find downloadable Food Allergy Awareness Week posters, printable bookmarks, and factsheets about food allergies that you can share on social media to help raise awareness.  FARE also encourages you to change your Facebook profile picture and cover photo to show your support, participate in a FARE Walk for Food Allergies, and wear teal for a day this week.  
Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer